THE PREDATOR

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Shane Black

Stars: Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Jacob Tremblay, Yvonne Strahovski, Trevante Rhodes, Sterling K Brown, Thomas Jane, Keegan Michael Kay, Augusto Aquilera, Alfie Allen, Jake Busey.

The Predator (2018)Is this new take on the dreadlocked extra-terrestrial trackers who travel across the universe hunting and killing for sport a remake, a reboot or a sequel? According to writer/director Shane Black it is a sequel to the first three Predator movies and reinvigorates the alien predator first created by writers Jim and John Thomas in 1987. The Predator is the fourth film in the series, discounting the Alien V Predator movies.

Black is familiar with the Predator mythology having played the first victim of the fearsome predator in the 1987 original, a superior blend of military action, high tech weaponry and sci-fi that starred the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger. Since then he has established a formidable reputation as a writer of great action films like the four Lethal Weapon movies, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Iron Man 3, and the recent The Nice Guys with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. He has written the script with Fred Dekker (Robocop 3, and with whom he also collaborated on 1987’s Monster Squad) and it includes some subtle, and not so subtle references to events and dialogue from the earlier films.

When the film opens, a fugitive predator flies his spaceship through a wormhole and crashes into the Mexican jungle. Army sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, from Logan, etc) is on a rescue mission nearby to free a hostage from a drug cartel. He and his unit have a ferocious encounter with the predator creature. McKenna manages to bring it down, and finds some of the alien technology, including its cloaking device and a weapon. He puts them in has backpack before agents from Project Stargazer arrive on the scene, hoping to use it as evidence of the existence of aliens.

The top-secret project has been tracking predators and their activities for thirty years and want this particular alien for research purposes. The project is headed by Will Traeger (played by Sterling K Brown, an Emmy award winner from tv series This Is Us, etc). McKenna manages to send the alien artefacts back home to his estranged wife Emily (Australian actress Yvonne Strahovski, from the Emmy award winning tv series The Handmaid’s Tale, etc) before he is taken for questioning by Traeger’s team. Traeger brings in biologist and scientist Dr Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn, from tv series The Newsroom, etc) to analyse the alien creature. When will movie scientists ever learn to not play around with alien technology as it never ends well?

Meanwhile McKenna’s son Rory (played by Jacob Tremblay), who is somewhere on the autism spectrum, opens the package and begins to play with the high tech toys his father has sent. He also inadvertently triggers a tracking device that brings an even nastier, 11-foot high ultimate predator to town to retrieve the devices and also kill the traitorous predator. This predator is much more fierce and powerful with more advanced technology and weapons.

McKenna is being taken to a military hospital where he is questioned. He is then on the way to the Stargazer research facility when the predator breaks loose and decimates the research facility. Fortunately, on the bus with McKenna are some psychologically damaged military misfits who are either mentally incapacitated or suffering from PTSD. Amongst this disparate group are disgruntled ex-marine Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes, from 12 Strong, etc); Coyle (Keegan Michael Key, one half of comedy duo Key and Peele); Baxter (Thomas Jane, from The Punisher, etc), who suffers from a  severe case of Tourettes; Nettles (Augusto Aguilera, from tv series Chasing Life, making his feature film debut) and Lynch (Alfie Allen, from Game Of Thrones, etc). Together this dirty half dozen take the fight to the predator.

Stan Winston’s original design for the alien creature is instantly familiar, and the state-of-the-art effects incorporate the digitally created character seamlessly into the live action sequences. Only the climactic fight in a forest between the alien and the soldiers however comes close to capturing some of the tension and well-staged action beats of the original.

Black’s direction is muscular and robust and full of the physical style he has perfected since his directorial debut with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005. And Black has deliberately aimed for a more violent approach to the material than the film studio wanted, as he refused to tone down some of the more graphic violence. But tonally the film is a bit of a mess, full of sound and fury, mixing violence with Black’s trademark off-the-cuff humour and quick one-liners. Most of the characters here are one-dimensional.

Holbrook makes for a good action hero here and he gets some great one-liners, although he lacks the physical presence of Schwarzenegger. For young Tremblay, who was so good in both Room and Wonder, his role here as a kid who suffers from Asperger’s, gives him another chance to impress and show what a fine, talented young actor he is. Munn, cast largely against type, brings a feisty quality to her role. Jane provides plenty of raucous humour through his unfortunate affliction.

The film does deal with themes of family, sacrifice, science, courage, and the healthy distrust and suspicion of authority. There is an overreliance on CGI effects here and the high-tech creations somehow lack the impact of the original, much of which was shot without the aid of modern digital effects.

And the ending somewhat optimistically sets the scene for another sequel.

★★★

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